Check in, and Get Out

Monterey is a sure thing, and that’s a great thing.


Catch the views at Fremont Park.

Photo by Yuval Helfman (CC)

Let’s face it: Some places are straight-up vacation clichés. But let’s also face this: Some places simply deserve that status. They’ve earned it, and anyone who argues otherwise—mocking their orca-viewing possibilities and charming adobes, say—is just jealous.

Monterey is one such place. A two-hour drive from the East Bay, this other bay—inhabited by indigenous tribes before being “discovered” in 1602 by Sebastián Vizcaíno, later becoming California’s first capital and home to California’s first theater, first public library, first public school, first newspaper, and even first stone building—offers stunning sightseeing, chic shopping, delectable dining, and endless activities. Its heritage uniquely merges industry, spirituality, poetry, and the military.

Sleep a few sandy steps from the surf and wake to its song at the deluxe Sanctuary Beach Resort. Stare straight down into the kelpy depths from your balcony at the sleek, convenient Monterey Plaza Hotel. Go green at the Portola Hotel & Spa, the central coast’s only LEED-certified hostelry. Get cookies-and-quiltily cozy at intimate, historic spaces such as flower-flanked Casa Munras or the storybookish Jabberwock.

Photo by Sandip Bhattacharya (CC)

Stay at the Monterey Plaza Hotel.

Check in. Then get out—outdoors, that is. That’s the whole point of Monterey and could be its wry motto: Get out.

Because that’s all you need to do there: Breathe that sea-breezily salty-sweet, magnificently-mild-all-year air and swim. Sail. Swing/slice your way across golf links so absurdly panoramic that it’s hard to keep your eye on the 9-iron. Whale-watch. Or simply stroll.

Cannery Row is undersized and oversung. But revel in clean, cute beaches and comparatively obscure corners such as the whalebone-walkwayed Whaling Station Garden and climbable, campable 188-acre Fremont Peak Park with its observatory and 360-degree views. Completed in 1794 and still serving local worshipers, San Carlos Cathedral is the state’s first stone structure, crowned by a stark cross and Spanish-tiled, biscuit-beige belfry.

Photo by Bernard Spragg NZ (CC)

See sea anemones at the aquarium.

Best enjoyed alongside a picnic lunch from the Sea Harvest Fish Market or Trader Joe’s, nearly every inch of Monterey’s shoreline offers jaw-dropping opportunities to view wildlife whose diversity and stare-down-a-sea-lion’s-throat proximity will make you wonder whether visiting these creatures’ captive cousins at the costly Monterey Bay Aquarium is even worthwhile. It is. But be warned: While wandering its 322,000-square-foot tankitude, you’ll yearn to—well, get out and savor more of the scrumptious air that inspired John Steinbeck, Robert Heinlein, Frank Zappa, and Salvador Dalí.

Maybe you needn’t read all this, because you probably already knew. Because it’s true. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. A sure thing is, after all, a sure thing.


Published online on March 23, 2017 at 7:00 a.m.

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